Trump to Sell Arms to Saudi Arabia, Despite Opposition

(Cairo) – The failure of the US Senate to rally enough votes behind its latest bid to block US arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates may further empower a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi militia in Yemen.

The Senate wanted to foil plans by the administration of US President Donald Trump to sell $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Nevertheless, it came short on July 29 of rallying the required two-thirds majority to sabotage a veto by Trump. Trump lobbied against the Senate’s bid, warning against its effect on the global competitiveness of his country. He said last week that blocking the arms deal with Saudi Arabia could damage his country’s ties with its allies.

Saudi Arabia and the coalition it leads have been fighting the Houthi militia, an Iran proxy, for five years now. The militia overran most of Yemen, scared its legitimate government and president out of it, and threatens navigation off Yemen’s Red Sea coast and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Nevertheless, rights groups have been lambasting the Saudi-led coalition since it staged its war against the Houthis in 2014, accusing them of committing human rights violations, including by targeting civilian areas.

The Houthis, meanwhile, have been using Iran-supplied missiles and drones in targeting Saudi cities and airports, especially in the southern part of Saudi Arabia.

In May this year, Trump’s administration said that it would move ahead with weapons sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. The US president even issued a national emergency declaration with the aim of moving ahead with the weapons sale. He warned the detractors of his policy that blocking the deal would make the war in Yemen drag on for longer and open the door for more civilian casualties.

The war in Yemen is basically between Saudi Arabia and Iran, while observers describe the Houthis as mere lackeys of Iran’s mullahs. The Trump administration has been tightening the noose around Iran since its unilateral pullout from the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers in May 2018.

Apart from some international rights groups that lash out at the US for selling more arms to Saudi Arabia, Iran is among the detractors of this US policy. On July 31, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif criticized the US for arming Saudi Arabia and allowing it to potentially acquire a nuclear weapon, despite “its involvement in the killing of US citizens”. He was probably referring to the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists who flew passenger planes into the World Trade Center in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, were Saudi nationals.

Despite the failure of the Senate to block the aforementioned deal, Trump’s close relations with Riyadh will most likely bring him under fire. The US president relies heavily on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, among other regional players, to rein in Tehran and bring it under control.

On July 29, 45 senators backed Trump’s veto of three congressional resolutions to block his administration’s bid to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, bypassing Congress. Forty senators voted against the president’s veto, while an additional 15 senators abstained from voting. Two additional votes had almost similar margins. Nonetheless, some senators spoke against the president’s move to bypass Congress.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey faulted the Trump administration’s arms sales policy to Saudi Arabia. “From the start, this administration has failed to demonstrate what kind of national security threat or ’emergency’ from Iran warranted fast-tracking the sale of these weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” he said.